Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris, Guided wildlife excursions, Aviemore, Scotland
Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris, Guided wildlife excursions, Aviemore, Scotland

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 2014, after I 'officially announced' the end of Summer and start of Autumn in my last blog update, of course, then turned out to be one of the warmest and dryest on record! I suspect the Met Office will not be offering me a job anytime soon.....
Though there were no real extremes of weather, the days are shortening noticeably with only around 12 hours of usable daylight now, but by way of compensation, many trees are full of colourful berries, and the leaves and ferns are starting to change colour into their attractive autumnal hues.....
I was away visiting relatives and friends for a good part of the month, so my report will be shorter than usual, and will contain some general observations and pictures from previous Septembers.....
With all the summer visiting bird species gone by mid-month, and the winter visiting bird species not yet arrived, bird day-lists remained in the 30's, whilst mammal day list varied between 5 and 9 species.


Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly during the month included: Osprey (first week only), Dipper, Red Grouse, Crested Tit and Goldeneye, with a couple of sightings of Golden Eagle....

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer, Mountain Goat and Rabbit......with just a couple of brief glimpses of Stoats ... 




A few of our local Ospreys (see pic above) lingered around their now redundant nest sites for a few days early in the month, giving us our last chance to admire these impressive raptors and their fishing skills, until they return in the spring.......


The Dippers (see pic above) on our local rivers appeared to be getting a little territorial, with some aggressive behaviour being witnessed near to prime nest sites, especially at first light...


The Red Grouse on the upland moors, many still in large family groups, continued to entertain my safari clients, and by using my vehicle as a mobile hide, we were often able to get some decent photographic opportunities (see pic above)



Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', and although they are mainly to be found in mixed flocks roaming around the Caledonian pine forests, we also managed to get some decent views of them at my feeding stations soon after first light (see pic above by Steve Simnett)


Golden Eagles are probably more commonly seen on my safaris during the short days of winter, when they have less hours of daylight in which to hunt, but a safari on the 20th saw us enjoy fairly distant, but still excellent views of a pair of sub-adult birds spend over an hour 'herding' a group of Red Deer hinds towards a precipitous cliff edge in a local upland glen, presumably in the hope that one or more would fall to their death, and provide them with venison for the next week or more! An amazing spectacle! (see pic above). Raptors in general seemed to be pretty active throughout the month with us seeing Peregrine, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, and Kestrel regularly as well...

Our local Goldeneyes appear to have had a good breeding season, with some large family parties still showing on our lochs, though the male birds always seem to disappear for the late summer and autumn....

Whilst I was away on my holiday, reports reached me of a Snowy Owl being sighted on the slopes of Ben Macdui - our highest mountain in the Cairngorm range. This is an extremely rare bird in the UK, and most sightings are usually confined to the northern and western isles of Scotland, so a mainland bird will be a 'must-see' for many 'twitchers'! As yet, I have not managed to make the trek up to try and see it, having been thwarted by bad weather on more than one occasion! But watch this space............



With the number of bird species available probably at it's lowest in September , mammals featured highly on my safaris, and towards the end of the month we began to notice some of the larger Red Deer stags starting to show signs of preparing for the forthcoming 'rut', with much roaring and aggressive posturing from elevated positions (see pic above)


Red Squirrels (see pic above) again put a smile on many of my safari clients faces, especially those seeing these attractive and characterful creatures for the first time...

So despite my absence for half of it, September 2014 actually turned out to be a pretty good month for wildlife watching in this area with some very memorable and enjoyable experiences, all in spectacular scenery, and with the winter visiting birds due to arrive, and the Red Deer rut looming, I am already looking forward to October....







Tuesday, September 02, 2014

August 2014 was very strange weather-wise in this area! Starting with rain and floods of near biblical proportions! , it then dried up a little, but turned much cooler and autumnal, with even a few dawn frosts towards the end of the month. The days are noticeably shortening now, but we still have 14-15 hours of usable daylight this far north. With many of our summer visiting bird species departing this area for their wintering areas throughout the month, it was inevitable that bird day-lists would reduce down into the 30's, whilst mammal day lists varied between 6 and 9 species, with earlier starts generally proving more successful. The Highland scenery is extremely picturesque now, with the heather is at it's beautiful purple best,  the ferns turning coppery gold, and the Rowan trees fully laden with brightly coloured berries.


Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly included:
Dipper, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Goldeneye and Goosander, whilst Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, and Black-Throated Diver were all seen early-month but sightings became less frequent after mid-month, and we also had a few views of Crossbills and Golden Eagle...sadly, Capercaillie and Black Grouse were not seen at all, though that is not unusual at this time of year....

Mammal species seen regularly included:
Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Mountain Goat, Stoat and Rabbit, with just a few sightings of Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Sika Deer and Bank Vole...and one memorable early morning encounter with a fishing Otter!


Osprey was again probably most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients in the first half of the month - hardly surprising I suppose when you consider that they are impressively large and attractively marked, and provide additional "wow" factor when seen plunge-diving or carrying fish! (see pic above)


As I mentioned last month, Slavonian Grebe is a very rare breeding bird in this area, so it was a real treat to be able to see at least 2 pairs with youngsters learning to fish and fly on our local lochs before they departed around mid-month.... (see pic above)


It was the same story with our local Red-Throated Divers (see pic above) and Black-Throated Divers, both species of which were seen to have bred successfully, but they too appeared to have vacated this area by the end of the month....


Our local Red Grouse showed well in large family groups on suitable heather moorland early in the month (see pic above), though not surprisingly, those on 'managed' moors became noticeably more wary of humans after the 'glorious' 12th......

Crested Tits, as I explained last month, are now in their 'mixed winter flocks' of  6 or more different bird species 'working' through our local Caledonian pine forests... so to see the 'Cresties' you have to first find a flock, then listen out for their distinctive chuckling trill , then try and pick them out as they move annoyingly flittily through the branches - not an easy feat! , but, satisfyingly for me as a guide, we managed it on a good number of occasions, with many of my safari clients obtaining a difficult and  much sought after 'life-tick' (see pic above)

Dipper sightings were a little up and down, rather like the rivers, as water levels fluctuated in height so much, but we managed a reasonably good success rate by employing my favourite tactic of using a raised bridge vantage point to stake-out a likely looking stretch with plenty of exposed rocks...

Golden Eagle sightings were a bit scarce, and mostly of the very distant variety, apart from one memorable close encounter on the 29th with a juvenile bird seen at quite close range and unusually low to the ground 'duelling' with a Common Buzzard in a secluded upland glen, it's white wing patches and tail base showing well against the 'solid' background....


Raptors in general were seen more frequently than last month, with Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine (see pic above) and Sparrowhawk all regulars , and Red Kite and Hen Harrier sighted at least once....

Although our Dotterel appeared to have vacated the mountain tops by early August, it was still possible to see large family groups of Ptarmigan and small groups of Snow Buntings with a bit of persistence, although there were very few days that were good enough weather-wise to attempt a 'mountain mission'....


With some of the summer visiting local speciality birds departing this area, mammals became more of a focus on my safaris, and we were fortunate to see a good variety throughout the month. The winner of my guests 'mammal of the day' award was invariably the Red Squirrel (see pic above) - with many of my safari clients getting their first ever sighting of these very endearing and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals.
The Red Deer often ran a close second though, especially when a stag was seen on the ridges of a beautiful upland glen in true 'Monarch of the glen' style (see pic below)


We had a number of good sightings of Stoats this month, especially groups of playful youngsters, including the amazing spectacle of a 'ball' of several 'wrestling' youngsters rolling down a moorland road in front of my safari vehicle! You will be pleased to hear that they 'exploded' off safely in different directions when they finally noticed us approaching!


Butterflies showed well early in the month, including our local speciality the Scotch Argus (see pic above), although sightings reduced noticeably as the temperatures dropped later in the month....


One good thing about the floods this month was the rising rivers finally giving the Salmon the chance to make their way upstream towards their spawning grounds, with trips to a couple of known 'Salmon leaps' (see pic above) providing decent views of these iconic fish completing their amazing migration....


So August 2014 turned out to be a pretty good month for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with lots of good sightings, many memorable experiences, great scenery and a few nice surprises like the Otter and the Stoats, putting smiles on the faces of my safari clients who were visiting Scotland from all around the world......